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Making Special Teams Special Again
After a shaky start the nerves finally settled, as the game progressed the players began to mature. Yes, there were blown assignments, penalties and mental errors. But Alabama found a way to win.
It was no surprise that Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide proved they're worthy of the preseason accolades. But the majority of Saturday's biggest plays weren't made on offense or defense. The most unforgettable and game changing performances surfaced in a phase that few expected. Special Teams.
In Blacksburg it's known as "Beamer Ball." Over the years, special teams have evolved into the lynchpin of the Virginia Tech football program. On Saturday night, Alabama overcame and redefined Beamer Ball. They outperformed the Hokies in a phase that was once the college football gold standard.
Although it is clear the kickoff and punt coverage units have their weaknesses, long returns will not be tolerated. After hours of practice and extensive film review, these areas of concern will become a distant memory.
The Alabama Crimson Tide has the athletes coupled with the mental capacity to set the new gold standard; the Crimson Standard. Saturday night's top performers will prove to be the cornerstone of the already talent rich coverage units.
Often when a snapper's name is mentioned it's because of a bad snap. They would rather have their career pass without too much notice. There is no position in sports with more anonymity than the long snapper — unless the ball goes sailing over the kicker's head or somewhere else it isn't supposed to go.
Possibility the biggest play of the night came from an unlikely (and often overlooked) position. The Snapper. Sure at a tradition rich, powerhouse program like Alabama there are a number of household names. Before the Tide took the field against Virginia Tech if you were asked, "Who's the long snapper?"
Even the die-hard fan would have to take a second and pause. Not anymore.
After Saturday night there was no chance of going unnoticed for Alabama's long snapper, Brian Selman. He may not be the fastest, or most athletic player on the roster, but he understands the true value of hard work and he has heart.
This was evident in the first quarter when Selman hustled downfield to recover Virginia Tech's muffed punt. Selman's recovery set up Leigh Tiffin's third field goal and a 9-7 Alabama lead. Each series he snapped the ball, got off his blocks and would be one of the first players downfield to make a tackle. Selman's punt recovery would set the tone for the next three quarters.
Alabama senior place kicker Leigh Tiffin received a number of honors for his impressive performance against Virginia Tech. Tiffin converted 4-of-5 field goal attempts against Virginia Tech, making good on attempts from 49, 34, 43 and 20 yards. Tiffin played well, but missed a crucial FG that would have given Alabama the lead and changed momentum.
Tiffin kicked the ball off very well, but where was Alabama's coverage team? Kickoff coverage just about cost the Tide. When Tiffin's kick is high and deep enough he should be able to count on the returners to make a play.
Prior to the season, I made it clear, "Leigh is back. This is his year." He has the technique, a powerful leg, and the mental capacity to be the BEST kicker in the country. If he can find a way to remain healthy, his potential is endless.
Before the season began I was told by a number of people, "This will be P.J.'s best year." From what I saw Saturday night I agree. P.J. showed his big leg, and the control he's able to maintain when running a smooth operation. He's a hard worker and sincerely comes to practice day in and day out for one reason, to get better. Expect great things from this young man this season.
Unbelievable. Not much more can be said.
Overall, The University of Alabama has some of the country's top talent throughout all three phases. It's just a matter of time before the Tide is running on all cylinders and taking the SEC by storm.
Jamie Christensen is the only player in Crimson Tide history to kick consecutive game winning field goals, as well as three last second, game winning field goals in one season: vs. Ole Miss on October 15, 2005, vs. Tennessee on October 22, 2005, and The Cotton Bowl vs. Texas Tech on January 2, 2006.
Christensen was in Tuscaloosa from 2003-2007 and played under coach Mike Shula (4 years) and coach Nick Saban (1 year).
He is a graduate of the Culverhouse College of Commerce with a B.S. in Business Management, B.S. in Marketing and a minor in Finance.
Christensen is a Financial Advisor at Merrill Lynch in Atlanta [click here].
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